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Hi, this is Helen Barnes-Bulley. I’m reading from my novel called “The Conservation of Cranes”.
Madeleine Blest was in Paris when she heard the news about Boris Pasternak’s Nobel Prize. October, and the weather getting colder now, although the pavilion in the Luxembourg was still open and she’d walked there yesterday and sat under the horse chestnuts reading the paper while she drank her coffee. Coats had become necessary on early mornings and trees along the river were fading to gold as the light grew softer and paler. It’s that time of the year when the river looks its most inviting to her between its oystery pearl banks, especially late afternoon if the sky is a bit stormy and the falling trees glowing with the intensity of the light and over the other side the slatey blue-grey of the peaks of the Hotel de Ville.
One of the clerks at a desk not far from hers had turned up the radio as the French newsreader announced with rather uncharacteristic enthusiasm that the great Soviet writer had been honoured with the world’s premier literary award. He then went on to emphasise the fact that much of his work, poetry and prose, had been banned in the writer’s own country, and had only been published in the west after being smuggled out in samizdat.
Madeleine found it hard to focus on her work after that and left the office early. She took a folder of news items for translation to work on at home and caught the metro for some of the way and then walked along the river before turning up towards the Sorbonne, stopping to buy some pears from one of the stalls in the Rue Mouffetard, and when she arrived at her hotel the housekeeper Madame Galtier told her she’d had a telegram.
“From your English friend,” Madame says, who has met Hugo on a couple of occasions when he’s called at the hotel, “he asked would you ring him.”
Hugo tells her later that evening on the telephone:
“They won’t let him go and collect it, of course. Not even Khrushchev will persuade the bureaucrats that it might be a neat bit of diplomacy.”
The line crackles and hisses during the long pause.
It’s been sixteen years now, three years since her last visit to Russia and he can almost hear what she is thinking.
“I’ll be going to Moscow next week. Oil business. Siberia, as a matter of fact.”
Madeleine was remembering Ilya reciting a bit of the Pasternak poem about Moscow trains. Early morning trains, the streets still half-dark, the dazzling cold, the optimism amidst the despair.
A copy had been passed around amongst the soldiers.
How can she not keep looking?
“Yes,” she says. “Yes Hugo, of course, I’ll come.”
ABOUT HELEN BARNES-BULLEY:
“The Conservation of Cranes”, much of which is set on the Russian border with Georgia during World War Two, has been through various transformations over a number of years and has its origins in a passionate interest in Russian history and literature. Many long and compelling conversations with Peter Bishop have taken place during its development. The novel is mostly written from the perspective of Madeleine Blest, a young Australian woman who is trapped with Russian troops as the invading German Army marches towards the Volga. A related novel, which shares some history and characters with “The Conservation of Cranes”, is now undergoing a new draft, and even though much of it is set in Australia it may necessitate further travels in Russia, including, hopefully, another journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. A fabulous way to travel from Asia to Europe.
Helen studied at the University of Sydney and began writing drama after graduating from NIDA’s Writing for Performance course. She wrote plays and serial pieces for ABC Radio, and won an AWGIE Award for her play Autumn Exchanges and the ABC National Drama Award for Ladies at Lunch. She also wrote for television and film, and for the theatre. She has published many pieces of short fiction and essays in a number of literary journals such as Southerly, Island, Westerly, Griffith Review and, most recently, Meanjin.
She has taught history and literature, and has been working with writers at Varuna for a number of years.
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